Karl Kirkwood is looking at a video on his iPhone – it’s his wife Vicky singing the lyrics to The Beatles’ Yesterday. He put it on Facebook because it reminds him that in spite of a brain injury, Vicky is still very much in touch with her greatest passion - music.
Vicky was a clarinetist in her school orchestra when she started dating indie music fan Karl but she later drove him crazy listening to pop tunes on a tinny transistor radio in their flat, with Wham as a particular favourite. Her love of musicals also took them to every west end show from Cats to Blood Brothers, even dragging him to Broadway to see the Lion King.
At just 23, Vicky was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome - a rare genetic disorder affecting the skeletal structure and blood vessels. Tests revealed a heart murmur and an aortic aneurism which led to an operation to replace her main aortas and heart valve. Her new rhythmic metal heart valve meant that in a quiet room you could hear her tick, so her friends named her Tick-Tock. Then Karl and Vicky decided to get married in December 2010.
Just five months later, during a routine check-up, a scan found that some of her spine needed to be replaced but that this pioneering surgerycould only be done in Holland. The Kirkwoods took a relaxing holiday en route to a very
successful operation, but as they were preparing to return home Vicky suffered a major brain aneurism and stopped breathing for 25 minutes. The resulting brain damage left her in a coma for a month and when she woke up, she couldn’t move or see.
Vicky’s husband Karl and parents John & Denise were very keen to have music as a central part of her rehabilitation - one of the reasons they fought for her to come to the RHN. Karl remembers how she was singing long before she had learnt how to speak again:
One day we were playing her some music in her room and she just started mimicking the words, just one word during the song and we said ‘did she just do that?’ And so we’d rewind the song and she would do it again. Then in music therapy she was just sitting there, singing away, so they began one-to-one sessions with her. Music is her life, it makes her happy - it’s her whole purpose.
Throughout their long journey of recovery, Karl has never let his wife give up and remembers: In Holland, they said she wouldn’t be talking, that she wouldn’t be remembering anybody’s name, but she is, she’s doing much more than that every day. She’s just amazing, absolutely amazing. The RHN has already proved them wrong. It has brought her back to me.’